Posts for Category Humor

But of that day and hour knoweth no man

In which Bill considers biblical confusion about when midnight is
Sep 032014
 

I saw a man today wearing a t-shirt printed on the back with:

Don’t wait until midnight

Just as I was starting to make guesses about what was going to happen at midnight, he turned around and I saw the front:

No man knows the date or the hour

I know enough Bible to get that this is a reference to The Rapture:* Don’t think you can wait until the last minute to get yourself sorted out with God, because no one knows when he might show up and slaughter all the unrepentant masses.

But my first thought was that this is good advice for life generally: no one knows what you mean when you say midnight. If God announced that everyone should be packed and ready to go at midnight on April 18, at least half of his followers would miss the Rapture Train because they showed up at the end of April 18 instead of the beginning. That’s why lawyers don’t use midnight in contracts: they use 11:59pm or 12:01am (and if you’re listening, God, be sure to specify which time zone you’re referring to, too).

The Bible doesn’t actually cite midnight as the cause of the confusion, but we can interpret it that way:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father….Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.

Clearly, one of those men and one of those women were confused about what midnight refers to. I don’t know what this house is all of a sudden, or why God’s return is being likened to a thief breaking into a house (isn’t his return supposed to be a good thing?), or why the Bible is telling us to keep watch when it is also telling us that there is no point in keeping watch because we cannot know when to keep watch, but “keep watch” obviously means “make sure your am/pm is set right on your watch and understand when midnight is.”

The advice from the United States Institute of Standards and Technology is slightly more straightforward :

Are noon and midnight referred to as 12 a.m. or 12 p.m.?

This is a tricky question because 12 a.m. and 12 p.m. are ambiguous and should not be used.

To illustrate this, consider that “a.m.” and “p.m.” are abbreviations for “ante meridiem” and “post meridiem,” which mean “before noon” and “after noon,” respectively. Since noon is neither before noon nor after noon, a designation of either a.m. or p.m. is incorrect. Also, midnight is both twelve hours before noon and twelve hours after noon.

It is fair to say, however, that the shortest measurable duration after noon should be designated as p.m. For example, it would be applicable for a digital clock changing from 11:59:59 a.m. to 12:00:00 to indicate p.m. as soon as it the 12:00 appears, and not delay the display of the p.m. by a minute, or even a second. The same is true for midnight, but there is an added issue of which day midnight refers to (see below).

Hours of operation for a business or other references to a block of time should also follow this designation rule.
For example, a business might be open on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon or weekends from 3:30 p.m. until midnight.

Is midnight the end of a day or the beginning of a day?

When someone refers to “midnight tonight” or “midnight last night” the reference of time is obvious. However, if a date/time is referred to as “at midnight on Friday, October 20th” the intention could be either midnight the beginning of the day or midnight at the end of the day.

To avoid ambiguity, specification of an event as occurring on a particular day at 11:59 p.m. or 12:01 a.m. is a good idea, especially legal documents such as contracts and insurance policies. Another option would be to use 24-hour clock, using the designation of 0000 to refer to midnight at the beginning of a given day (or date) and 2400 to designate the end of a given day (or date).

Notes

*
Insert scary noises and lightning bolts here.
Matthew 24:3643, New International Version, boring parts omitted.

Proof that mockery pays

In which Bill's facile mockery finally pays off
Jan 312013
 

I’m sorry, Dear Reader, that you haven’t heard much from me lately. I know you don’t care, but I do. Things have been too busy at work, or something. But I have lots of great ideas in the works, so stay tuned and prepare to be disappointed all over again.

In the meantime, here’s the third-funniest that’s happened to me all week (so far!): Remember way back last year when I made fun of the The Personal Internet Address & Password Log Book? Well, someone walked away from my review with completely the wrong idea. They clicked through my link to Amazon and bought one, earning me an Amazon Associates commission of 16¢. That may not sound like a lot, but that’s enough to qualify as the most remunerative post I’ve ever written (or maybe second-most, if you count the free Mucca Pazza album I got for talking about them). So, thanks, anonymous person who decided, despite my scorn, that they really needed one of those things. I will think of you fondly as I spend my 16¢ windfall!

Joan Miró, technology visionary?

Did Joan Miró paint a picture of a laptop computer in 1922?
Jun 132012
 

The National Gallery of Art currently has a large exhibition of works by Joan Miró. It’s  a well-organized show that does a great job of providing background and context for his work. As for the art itself, I like his earlier paintings, but the later, more abstract work mostly does not resonate with me.

One of the best-known early-period paintings is “The Farm,” which Miró painted in 1921–22 and which was once owned by Ernest Hemingway.

image of "The Farm" painting by Joan Miró
National Gallery of Art / Successió Miró/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

There’s a lot going on in there, but take a look toward the bottom right corner. What’s that rooster sitting on?

detail of a section of "The Farm" by Joan Miró

I spent a long time staring at this up close at the museum, and I’m pretty sure it’s a laptop computer with a pie chart on the screen. Maybe that rabbit was working on a spreadsheet?

Dear Mom: Please don’t get me this for Christmas

This handy little book lets you put all of your important computer account information in one easy-to-steal place
May 242012
 

The other night* as I was in the checkout line at Bed Bath & Beyond I saw what I thought must be the dumbest product in the store: the GoJo Hands Free Headset.

guy with his cell phone strapped to his head

For $10 you get two headbands with suction cups. You use them to strap your cell phone to your head for convenient hands-free talking. Go check out their site. It’s hilarious; you don’t need me to make the jokes for you.

Then I saw something even worse. The Personal Internet Address & Password Log Book is a handy little book that lets you “keep favorite website addresses, usernames, and passwords in one easy, convenient place!”:

the personal internet address & password logbook

Here’s how the publisher describes this book:

Are you tired of losing track of those login/usernames and passwords you create every time you visit a new Web site? Do you have sticky notes and scraps of paper scattered about your office and home computer space covered with these vital pieces of information, but never seem to be able to put your hands on them when you need them? Now you can keep important Web site addresses, usernames, and passwords in one convenient place! Introducing the Personal Internet Address & Password Log Book! This time-saving, headache-preventing little organizer features: Lots of space—144 pages, including tabbed alphabetical pages. Plenty of room for all those Web site addresses, usernames, passwords, and additional notes. A spiral binding that allows pages to lie flat for ease of use. Handy elastic band closure. Pages in the back on which to record additional useful information, such as your home network configuration, software license numbers, and other notes. Removable label and discreet cover design

Here’s what it looks like inside:

the inside of the password book

This Amazon review covers most of the points that come up in the other (mostly 5-star) reviews for this book:

The number of websites that I access for which I need to enter login information has skyrocketed, and there have not been any easy ways of keeping track of all of them. Using the same password can be very insecure, and keeping a list of all of them in a file on your computer is also not very prudent. Sometimes, the simplest solution might be the best one, and writing all those login handles and password into a single logbook seems very smart. It also helps with retrieving the information, as I it’s still more intuitive for me to flip through pages than go through files and directories on my computer….The only problem that I have with a physical password logbook is that many sites require you to change your password on a regular basis, which may cause you to either run out of space for a few entries or have to re-enter them from scratch. I don’t think that there will ever be a perfect solution for the password proliferation, but as far as I am concerned this small logbook comes very close.

The most surprising thing about this review is that the reviewer is not a technologically-clueless old person but, according to him, a relatively young theoretical physicist.

Most of you understand why this is a dumb product. If, on the other hand, you’re thinking, “wow, that’s a great idea!,” let me explain to you why it’s not.

Before we even get to the security implications, consider the sheer technological backwardness of it. If you’ve embraced technology enough that you have this many passwords to keep track of, it’s time to make the leap and learn a little about what your computer can do for you. Discover the magic of copy/paste, which is a whole lot easier and less error-prone than typing in this information every time you need it.

The “only problem” this review cited was the fact that you might run out of space for all your passwords. Another reviewer has thought things through a little more thoroughly (but still gives it a 5-star review):

It’s set up very nicely, but my only worry is that I’ll misplace this after I become dependent on it.

May I suggest that this is not an insignificant worry? The time you spent laboriously copying all of your account information into this book by hand is nothing compared to the effort that will be required when you lose it, to reset/retrieve your password for all those accounts, and cancel your credit cards for good measure.

People are excited that it’s so portable:

The logbook comes in very handy. It’s small enough to take with you. It holds a bevy of information, which is great.

That is great. Great for the criminal who gets this as a bonus when he steals your purse or laptop, or picks it up when you accidentally leave it behind on the train. This book is an instruction manual for stealing your money and taking over your online life. If you use the book at home, as a replacement for all those “sticky notes and scraps of paper,” then it’s no less secure than the “system” you’re already using, and it is a step up in convenience. But if you are carrying it around with you, you are a fool. As the only sensible reviewer of the product said,

People you would be better off leaving your cash, credit cards, social security card along with your ATM card and pin number out in the open. If someone gets their hands on this book then you’re screwed!

In fact there are many easy and secure ways of keeping track of all those passwords: programs designed to do exactly that have been widely available since long before the average computer user had enough passwords to keep track of that they needed such a thing, and there are now Web services that do the same thing. These programs use a master password to encrypt all of your information, so as long as you choose a good master password, your data is safe (safer than it is in a little book you carry around with you, anyway). And you won’t lose it because you can back it up with the rest of your important computer data. You are backing up your important computer data, right?

One of the reviews of the password book led me to the Healthy Passwords Web site (and book). The author explains the importance of good passwords and presents a system for creating and keeping track (using “your brain and a system”) of strong and unique passwords. It’s an informative site, and a nice idea for a password-creation scheme, but my reaction is the same as my reaction to the password logbook: technology provides a better solution in the form of a password management program or online service.

At the risk of turning this post into something more than breezy mockery, let me digress for a few minutes to offer some advice.

Whatever system you use for creating and tracking your passwords, you need to have strong passwords, and you need to use different passwords for different sites. Web sites get hacked into all the time, and when this happens the hackers are looking not just for credit card numbers but for user IDs and passwords. A good Web site stores your password in a form that makes it impossible to recover, but most sites are not good, leaving your password vulnerable to being stolen.§ Since your e-mail address is also your user ID at most sites, once the hacker has stolen that information from one site they can go try out the user ID and password at other likely sites. If you use a password at more than one site, then all of the accounts are as vulnerable as the least secure of them, and you should assume that’s not very secure.

For example, suppose you went to Lifehacker.com once, long ago, and registered on the site in order to leave a comment on some article there. You used the same e-mail address and password that you use everywhere, including your Gmail account, Amazon, and your online banking site. By December 2010, you had long since forgotten that you ever registered at the site. In that month, Lifehacker and all the other sites run by Gawker Media were hacked, and the account information for all the registered users was stolen. The hackers then posted this information on the Internet for anyone to use. Armed with your e-mail address and Lifehacker password, it’s a simple thing to go try the same logon information at the sites of major banks and online services.

If you’re using a password manager, it’s a simple thing to use a unique, randomly-generated password for every site you register at. If that’s more than you want to manage, you must at least have a unique password for every login account that matters–your bank accounts, e-mail account, Amazon account, etc. If you want to use the same password for all the unimportant sites you register at, that’s OK. If someone steals your password from Lifehacker and uses it to post snarky comments here at Bill’s Head, that’s not the end of the world. But if they steal your password from Lifehacker and use it to drain your bank account or erase your e-mail archive, that’s another story.

For just such a story, you can read James Fallows’s article “Hacked!” in The Atlantic, which describes what happened when hackers broke into his wife’s Gmail account and, after sending scam e-mails to all of her contacts, deleted her entire e-mail archive.

That last part is important. Google and many other providers of “free” online services do not make any provision for backing up and restoring the data of a single individual.** If your data gets deleted (by you, by hackers, by little computer gnomes), it’s entirely possible that you will never see it again. If you are entrusting important information to an online service, you should make certain you understand what, if anything, they are doing to back it up, and you should back it up yourself if they’re not doing so.

All of you who are feeding your lives into Facebook should think hard about this point. Facebook is a walled-off system. It provides no way for you to back up your data, or to export it and take it somewhere else. What happens if someone gets control of your account and deletes it? Or if the Next Big Thing comes along and you want to move your life story and all your pictures there? Or if Facebook just shuts down one day? If everything you’ve ever posted on Facebook is so banal that you don’t care if you never see it again, then you have nothing to worry about. But if Facebook is your digital scrapbook and you want to retain some of this for posterity, you should be worried.

Meanwhile, I’m just glad that the woman who wrote this review of the password logbook is not my mother:

I purchased these log books as stocking stuffers for my adult children. Sadly, one of them was severely damaged. I would like to receive a replacement log book.

Please, mom: don’t get me this for Christmas.

Notes

*
When I say “the other night” I mean “about three weeks ago,” because I started this post back then and have been lazy about finishing it. Not that the exact date is important at all to the story, except that in the interim, another blogger of my acquaintance has posted about the same topic, and I want to make it clear that I did not steal the idea. Not that you or even she cares. Carry on.
Special bonus: Hotard Review of the product. This reviewer gives it 5 stars based on the product description and the ordering process:

This rate/review will most likely to be unchanged, but it is hard to tell until I actually receive the item. However, I can comment on the selecting and placing the order.

If it were not for the Christmas rush and Holiday I would have to say it was very simple and quick to review the product and make my decision. Placing the order and checking out would also be easy.

I am anxious to get my product, I have been looking for something like this for quite awhile.

I use KeePass, which is free, open-source software. There are versions available for many mobile devices so that you can synchronize your information to your device and have it with you when you need it. There are many other programs available, too, at various price points. Try a few and pick the one you like best, or look into an online service–LastPass seems reputable and useful from what I can tell, but I have no direct experience with it.
§
If a site has an option to send you your password if you’ve forgotten it, you should count on this site being hacked and your password being stolen at some point. A well-secured site will offer you the option to reset your password (to a new password that the site generates for you) but will not be able to send you your existing password. This is because a good site stores a “hash value” that is calculated based on your password, which allows it to verify you are entering your password correctly when you log in without storing your actual password. Anyone who breaks into the system will not be able to determine your password based on the hash value.
**
These companies have elaborate systems for backing up and restoring their servers and data in the aggregate, in case of a system failure or other disaster. But they generally do not offer a way to restore the data for a single user in the case of an individualized catastrophe. This is partly for technical reasons and partly for economic reasons. Remember this when you’re using a free service: you get what you pay for.
May 222012
 

I’ve discovered that I have quite a backlog of pictures on my phone of things that need to be made fun of commented on. Here’s the first one:

van with sign on side: "Psychic reading. Call for appomiment"

There’s an obvious and old joke–why would I need an appointment? Doesn’t the psychic know I’m coming? But mainly I can’t figure out where “appomiment” comes from. At first I thought it might be carried over untranslated from the psychic’s non-English native language, but I haven’t yet turned up a language where “appomiment” is legal. Most of the results from a Google search are Google Books results where the optical character recognition software misread a properly-spelled appointment. There were, however, a few human-generated occurrences of “appomiment.” It’s hard to tell, given that most people posting on the Web are only semi-literate, but they seem to come from native English speakers.

On Facebook, Becky Princess Butterworth shares her “eye brow waxin” appomiment needs with the whole world.

In a pain management discussion, a forum poster writes,

look when i am in a flair up with my back i get spacy with the pain more so than the meds i blow off appomiments and work and forget a lot of things … you need to set up a appomiment with your doctor … let him know how you feel tell him you want him to manage “ALL YOUR MEDS”….

In another forum we find

Hi i am 13 weeks and 3 days today and just wanted to know how long it is between your frist midwife appomiment and the secound one as they have sent me a date for januery and baby is due in april.

And then, bless his heart, there’s Sal, writing a blog called “My Day’s“:

welp this hetectic weekend is over thank god, i didn’t like it at all ahah well today i didn’t get to go to school..darn and i was lookin forward to it too, no but i went all the way to novato for a chiropracter appomiment for my back cuz it hurts alot and cuz the accident thingy just wanted to make sure speakin of the accident its all over and done with the guy fixed his car him self. the only bad thing is that sals car going to car heaven tomorrow! hahah it was blowin hela oil out the tail pipe today it was horrible, poor piston rings..haha wheee whoo im going to starbucks tomorrow morning! haah man i dont have a car now! that bites hela hard welp haha i dont really want to type this today like usual ahah i just typed hela shit so ya ima go get a bowl of honey nut cherrios and a bannana! YUMMY!

You don’t have to read around long on My Day’s to realize that a) bold white text on a black background makes your head hurt* and b) Sal is deficient in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and, most importantly, a sense of irony:

Shit man haven’t wrote in the for daaaaays!!! this is going to be humongo big like emilys balls! hahahahaha anyway umm this week was purtty chill. In english we got this book and it hurts my brain hella bad…its like from the south and its a black person point of view and the spelling is so fucked up! ahah its like impossible to read..i was lauhgin when i teacher was reading it out loud! so umm ya that’s about it nothing exciting went down …..oh on thrus me n chirs went to Starbucks..haha it was great then we went to get ross HA HAHAHA OMG HAHA it was great his car only has 2 seats so ross had to ride in the back were the spare tire was..ahaha and their is no carpet stuff back their just metal..ahah it was great then we turned the stearo up hella and let the 12″ bumb out ross ear..

Occasionally he does realize that he might be misspelling something:

so i stayed home…bored…went to walmart and got Co2 and pellets for my pellet gun, gonna shoot me sum possems!!(SP) haha ya we have them in our back yard! haha and man do i gottta PEEE! haha i just dont want to get up

I frequently see “(SP)” used in situations like this and I always wonder: Why does he care that he’s misspelling possum but doesn’t care that he’s also misspelling every third word that he writes? And, if he’s aware that he doesn’t know how to spell the word, why doesn’t he go look it up? A quick Web search wouldn’t take much more time than typing “(SP).”

Back at “appomiment,” I’m still stumped as to how people end up writing appointment that way. I’ve never heard it pronounced as “appomiment” or anything close.  When I went to search Bing, I noticed from the suggested searches that “appomient” and “appoiment” are popular mistakes:

appomient

“Appoiment” makes sense as a typo or misspelling based on mispronunciation, but “appomient” is just as baffling to me as “appomiment.” In this example the writer uses both “appoiment” and “appomient,” suggesting that maybe she thinks it’s spelled “appoiment” and “appomient” is a typo for “appoiment” (bonus: another use of “(sp)” for one misspelling in a sea of them):

i need serious answeres no answere like”ewww” or “go to the doctors” i have had this problem my hole life and have gone to doctor appoiment and doctor appomient and need some answeres i have had ultra sounds and upper gis and a colonoscapy(sp?) okso heres my prob i can go like a week and some times up to 2 weeks with out going to the bathroom and when i go to the bathroom i am in so much pain some times i would rather just die then have to go to the bathroom and i get naushies 90% of the time when i go to the bathroom i will almost puke my mouth will fill up with spit like some on eturned on a faucet and then i will have diariha and be sick as a dog for likr 3days

And I’ll end with that lovely image fresh in your mind. If any of you, dear readers, can shed some light on this “appomiment” thing, please pipe up.

 

Notes

*
Sal complains that he’s getting a D in his web design class at school. He blames it on the fact that he “missed 3 weeks from the flu” but I suspect there might be other factors.

My new favorite Christmas song

Tim Minchin likes Christmas even though he'd "rather break bread with Dawkins than Desmond Tutu, to be honest."
Nov 292011
 

Last week’s Studio 360 included performances from Tim Minchin, who I don’t think I had ever heard of before. He finished up with “White Wine in the Sun,” in which he explains why he likes Christmas despite “the usual objections to consumerism / The commercialisation of an ancient religion / To the westernisation of a dead Palestinian / Press-ganged into selling Playstations and beer.”

The other songs he performed (“Prejudice” and “F**k the Poor) were great, too. Check them out here. Then listen to the rest of the show–you’ll probably like it.

 

A cheaper alternative to spending $4.3 million for a dull photograph

A boring photograph just sold for $4.3 million. Here's a cheaper alternative.
Nov 162011
 

I don’t think I had ever heard of Andreas Gursky until I read yesterday that one of his photographs just sold for $4.3 million, making it the most expensive photograph ever sold. Christie’s auction house describes the photograph, Rhein II, as “a dramatic and profound reflection on human existence and our relationship to nature on the cusp of the 21st century.” OK. Whatever. Here’s the photograph:

Andreas Gursky's Rhein II
Andreas Gursky/Christie’s Images, Ltd., 2011

The Guardian reports that

The desolate featureless landscape shown in Rhine II is no accident: Gursky explained in an interview* that it is his favourite picture: “It says a lot using the most minimal means … for me it is an allegorical picture about the meaning of life and how things are.”

In fact the artist carefully digitally removed any intrusive features – dog walkers, cyclists, a factory building – until it was bleak enough to satisfy him.

That’s right: it’s not really even a photograph–it’s a Photoshop composition.

Well, I suppose the buyer will enjoy bragging about owning it.

cactus

But maybe your taste is different from mine, and you think that this “photograph” is interesting. Maybe you even hoped to purchase it, but got outbid. Well, here’s some good news. Shortly after I saw Rhein II, I happened to walk past a cactus that I have in my house, and noticed a similarity.

So I cropped a picture of it…

cactus detail

…and then spent 10 minutes in Photoshop until I was satisfied that it was conveying my intended message about the meaning of life and how things are:

Bill's Cactus II photograph, which is almost as good as Gursky's Rhein II
Cactus IICourtesy of Bill

It’s not my best Photoshop work, since I’m working without benefit of my dominant hand and also didn’t want to waste a lot of time on this, so I’m offering it for sale at the bargain price of $4,338.50, which is 0.1% of what Gursky’s photograph sold for. I’d say Cactus II is at least one tenth of one percent as interesting to look at as Rhein II is, so it seems like a fair price. Now, for this unbelievably low price, you’re getting an unframed print that’s about 30 inches long. I realize that part of the appeal of Gursky’s work is the large size of the prints. Therefore, I am also offering my photograph glass mounted at 80″ x 140″ (about the same size as Rhein II) for the still very reasonable price of $43,385.

Or, if you think that both Gursky’s photograph of the Rhein and mine of my cactus are actually quite dull, by all means take a look through my gallery and see if there’s something else you’d like instead.

Notes

*
I tried to watch the documentary that contains this interview, but got bored before Gursky made his appearance. I’m still not sure that Ben Lewis, with his breathless enthusiasm for Gursky, isn’t having us on.
For the record, I think some of Gursky’s other work is interesting.

Big Brother is stalking me

I recently did some Web searches involving the word "coin," and now suddenly I'm getting mail from the United States Mint. Coincidence?
Oct 262011
 
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Bill's head on a gold coinI don’t collect coins. I’ve never been interested in the topic other than that I think numismatics is a cool word (though not as cool as numismatism, which sadly isn’t a “real” word, or numismatology, which is).* I’ve never bought anything from the United States Mint or had any other dealings with them. If I’ve ever received mail from them before I’ve forgotten it. But I did recently spend a lot of time doing Web searches that involved the word coin for my post on “to coin a phrase.”  I even stopped by the US Mint Web site when I was looking for pictures to illustrate the post. So perhaps it’s no coincidence that I opened my mailbox the other day and found this:

envelope from the US Mint

Inside was the 2011 Fall Catalog of collectible coins. I do a few Web searches and all of a sudden the United States government thinks I might want to buy some coins? Creepy.

Continue reading »

Link: Wanna Live Forever? Become A Noun

Amusing song (and animation) from NPR’s Adam Cole and Robert Krulwich about people who have become nouns.
Sep 282011
 

Amusing song (and animation) from NPR’s Adam Cole and Robert Krulwich about people who have become nouns.

You’ve heard of Joseph-Ignace Guillotin but did you know there was an Étienne de Silhouette? Be sure to follow through to the Time/Life photo gallery of people who became nouns (though they don’t dance like the ones in the NPR animation).